In many areas of the United States, power distribution isn’t always perfect. It’s commonplace for rural areas to suffer frequent brownouts and outages due to the inadequate supply of power being fed into the grid. Couldn’t the additional power provided from homes and businesses that use grid-tied solar arrays strengthen the supply in those areas? Yes and no. The answer is “yes” in that the excess power could be added to the grid’s total pool of energy, but “no” as it depends on how many establishments are tied into the grid – it could simply not provide enough extra energy.
How Grid-tied Systems are Involved – Solar arrays that are tied into the grid provide excess power to the community. If a home that has solar panels on the roof produces more than it can use and store, the extra is sent back out onto the power lines. Depending on the size of this array, it could be just a few extra watts to hundreds or even thousands. It all depends on how large the array is for that one establishment.
Brownouts – Brownouts can be caused either by manually reducing the power flow in the event of emergencies, or unintentional drops due to an inadequate power supply or other compromised circuitry. For many areas, these brownouts occur regularly and could cause a great deal of harm to electronic components such as computers. This is the result of not enough power being supplied to your home signified by the dimming of your lights or other components that are plugged in.
Feeding Power – For the grid-tied solar array, the excess energy is fed back into the system. For an area that experiences frequent brownouts, the excess energy could be used to compensate for inadequate supplies. Instead of the power being delivered from a single source, there are as many producers for power on the grid as there are solar arrays plus the power plant itself. In a smaller area, the grid-tied solar array could help offset some of the dip in power provided. The more arrays there are, the less likely the brownout could affect the area. Of course this is also in conjunction with the amount of excess power that is being fed into the system.
Dangers of Grid-tied Arrays – While solar panels that are providing power to the grid could alleviate the brownouts experienced by an area, they can also cause a problem when it comes to repairs. When a power line requires maintenance, the power company can simply shut off a location. However, this doesn’t affect the solar array that is tied into the grid. These lines could still be live as the array is still feeding power. Of course many households and businesses have methods of shutting down this connection in the event of an emergency repair. In fact, the Remote Solar Isolator device will restrict the flow of electricity from solar panels should it not detect power on the grid.
When it comes to brownouts being caused by the inadequate flow of power from the grid, private solar panels could theoretically compensate for the disruption. It all depends on how much power is needed and how much is being generated by the array. This isn’t saying that your array will stop the town from experiencing this problem, but it could assist in the regulation of electricity.
Photo Source: The California Valley Solar Ranch has a capacity of 250 MW — enough energy to power the equivalent of every home in San Luis Obispo County. | Photo courtesy of SunPower from United States Department of Energy (USDOE)
This article is contributed by Madoline Hatter. Madoline is a freelance writer and blog junkie from ChangeOfAddressForm.com. You can reach her at: m.hatter12 @ gmail. com.
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